All posts by Eric Zweig

An Ode to Old Goalies

On this day in history 100 years ago, on January 9, 1918, just three weeks into its inaugural season, the NHL made an important rule change. It would now allow goalies to leave their feet and fall to the ice to make a save. This rule change was the focus of a story I wrote last month for the New York Times. It’s also in a story I wrote three years ago for this web site.

To make the New York Times story different, I sought out several NHL goaltenders past and present to speak with. This gave me my first opportunity to talk with “Mr. Goalie” Glenn Hall … and what would sadly turn out to be my last chance to speak with Johnny Bower.

Bower
Paintings by Darrin Egan. Visit him on Facebook.

I spoke to Johnny Bower on October 17. It was a couple of weeks before his 93rd birthday. He answered the phone, but for the first time (and admittedly, I’ve only spoken to him a few times before), he sounded old. I explained that I would like to ask him a few questions, and he told me he really didn’t like to do interviews anymore. He wasn’t sure he still had the memory for it. I said I’d ask him one question, and if he didn’t feel he could answer, we didn’t have to continue. I asked him my question, and one thing quickly led to another. No problem with his memory that I could detect!

As noted in my Times story, Bower told me he was unaware there had originally been a rule requiring goalies to remain standing. He also told me it probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference to his decision to become a goalie. “No one really flopped down,” he said. “As a child, I would stand up, I was scared. No one had to say anything to me.”

But, of course, there would be occasions when he had to drop to the ice to make a save. “My dad said, ‘you fall to much.’ I said ‘Dad, you don’t know hockey. I have to do what I have to do.’ It turned out just great.” Bower told me he always considered himself a standup goaltender, “but the poke check was a big plus.”

1918
This announcement  was made by NHL president Frank Calder from his office
in Montreal on January 9, 1918. (From the Ottawa Journal, January 10, 1918.)

The poke check, often diving head first (without a mask!) toward an on-rushing opponent, became Bower’s signature move.  As Leafs president Brendan Shanahan told reporters shortly after Bower’s death on Boxing Day: “Not too many people in sports have a name where it almost becomes a verb. If you were playing street hockey and you poke-checked somebody, you’d yell, ‘Johnny Bower. I just Johnny Bowered you.’”

Like Johnny Bower, Glenn Hall regarded himself as a standup goaltender, even though he’s considered the pioneer of the butterfly style. Spreading his legs wide to block the bottom of the net was merely an extension of his natural style. “I always played in a deep crouch,” he explained. “[Terry] Sawchuk did too. But I looked at the other goalkeepers who were just a little before me; Chuck Rayner and Sugar Jim Henry were two of my favourites. Both were standup.”

Hall told me that when he was playing junior hockey in the Red Wings farm system in Windsor, Ontario, he would go to Detroit to watch NHL games. “That’s when I saw those guys … but I never saw a goalkeeper I didn’t like. You didn’t steal from them exactly, but you noticed what they were doing and if it was getting results or making things more difficult.”

Hall
Contact Darrin at: inthebluepaint@gmail.com

Hall was aware of the old rule about goalies standing. “I think at one time I knew that,” he said. But even long after the rule had changed, coaches in his era weren’t exactly progressive in their thinking. “They had a few silly rules. Coaches would holler, ‘Stand up. Don’t touch the puck unless it’s going in the net.’ So many stupid things.”

There were no specialized goalie coaches in Glenn Hall’s time. The men behind the bench were usually ex-forwards or defensemen. “You never thought of the coaches,” he said. “They didn’t know anything about playing goal.” Former Boston Bruins goaltending great Tiny Thompson was a Black Hawks scout when Hall got to Chicago. “I liked to talk to him, but he never offered any hockey advice. Nor did I ask him.”

I asked Hall who was the best goalie he ever saw. “I never played against anyone I thought was better than me,” he said with a smile in his voice. But he did admit that, “Sawchuk, in his first four years, was unbelievable.” He also loved Gump Worsley and Johnny Bower. “Both were great goalies.” (Unfortunately, I didn’t realize until we were done that I hadn’t asked him about Jacques Plante.)

1917
Clint Benedict’s habit of accidentally falling to the ice is often credited with changing
the NHL rule about goalies, but Art Ross had spoken in favour of the change prior to
the start of the first NHL season. (From the Ottawa Journal, December 17, 1917.)

More recently, Martin Brodeur was someone Hall admired, but he had trouble relating to Dominik Hasek. “Hasek was different,” he said. “I wasn’t watching a lot of hockey then, but I hated to guess and a lot of Hasek’s moves looked like guess-type moves. He must have known what he was doing, but I would have had trouble playing like that.”

So would Mr. Goalie – a man who has a reputation for being sick to his stomach before nearly every game he played – still have wanted to be a goalie if the rules had required him to remain standing?

“Yes, of course! I didn’t start playing goal until I was about 10 or 11, but I found out it was the most interesting spot to play. That’s where all the action was. That’s what made it enjoyable. That’s where things were happening.”

Before He Was Bower

Leafs legend Johnny Bower passed away on Tuesday at the age of 93. Much has already been said and written about him, most of it conveying that as great a goalie as he was, Bower was an even better person. My personal experiences with him were few, but any time I had the opportunity to speak with him, it was always special.

Bower

Bower’s exact age had long been something of a mystery. As a young boy, he lied about his age to join the Canadian Army in World Word II. (Many stories say he was only 15 at the time, others say 16). During his career, he enjoyed playing along with the guessing game, but in recent years it was determined that he was (probably!) born on November 8, 1924. His name at the time was John Kiszkan.

A respiratory infection in 1942 likely saved Bower/Kiszkan’s life when he had to be hospitalized instead of being sent to France for the disastrous Dieppe Raid. After being discharged due to rheumatoid arthritis in his hands in 1943, Kiszkan returned to his home town of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, where he quickly resumed his hockey career. He played for the Prince Albert M and C Warhawks and helped them win the Western Canada Intermediate hockey championship at the end of the winter in 1944.

Bower 1
The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix of February 26, 1944, reports on Prince Albert’s 5-2 victory
over the Notre Dame Hounds to open the Intermediate Provincial championship.

Bower 3
Stories on Prince Albert’s two-game sweep of the Western Canada title
are from The Lethbridge Herald on March 18 and 20, 1944.

In the fall of 1944, John Kiszkan had a professional tryout with the Cleveland Barons of the American Hockey League. He didn’t catch on, returning once again to Prince Albert where he played Junior hockey. His Prince Albert Black Hawks won the North Saskatchewan championship in 1945 but lost the Provincial title to the Moose Jaw Canucks of the Southern Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.

Bower 4
Cleveland Barons story from the New Philadelphia (Ohio) Daily Times on September 29. 1944. The Saskatchewan Junior story is from The Lethbridge Herald on March 9, 1945.

The next season, 1945-46, Kiszkan began his lengthy minor league apprenticeship in Cleveland that would eventually lead to his great success in Toronto.

Bower 6
From the Athens (Ohio) Messenger on December 28, 1945.

A year later, John Kiszkan (whose last name had often been misspelled in newspapers, and must have been mispronounced by broadcasters as well) decided that his surname was just too difficult for the sports media. Bob Duff, co-author The China Wall: The Timeless Legend of Johnny Bower, told me that Johnny’s parents had separated by then, and when he turned 21, Johnny had his sister Rose, who worked in a legal office, help him change his name to Bower. It was their mother’s maiden name.

Bower 7
The Cleveland Barons were training in the Manitoba Capital when
this story appeared in the Winnipeg Tribune on September 24, 1946.

His name appeared as John (Kiszkan) Bower in many newspapers throughout the 1946-47 season with Cleveland … but he would be Johnny Bower for ever after.

Season’s Greetings

From the Vancouver Daily World, on Tuesday, December 24, 1912…

Xmas 2017

Who knows how “Extra” becomes “Wuxtry”? And, personally – not to be sexist or racist in this day and age! – I wish All Good Sportsmen AND Sportswomen a Merry Christmas, a belated Happy Hanukkah, or best wishes for any holiday you celebrate at this time of year.

Thank you to everyone who takes a few minutes once a week or so to read these stories, and especially to those who offer comments; either by email or Facebook, or directly on the site.

All the best to everyone in 2018.

Toronto as Title Town

Not that long ago, Toronto was being mocked as the worst sports city in North America. Well, in recent years we’ve had two exciting Blue Jays playoff appearances (though I fear we won’t see that again for a while), a resurgence of the Raptors and a rebirth of the Maple Leafs. And now, within a two-week span from November 26 to December 9, a Grey Cup championship by the Toronto Argos and an MLS Cup win by Toronto FC.

TFC

Once upon a time, titles in Toronto weren’t so rare. In fact, there was a time when it seemed like the Argos and Maple Leafs would never lose. In an eight-year span from 1945 to 1952, the Argos won the Grey Cup five times and the Leafs won the Stanley Cup five times. That’s got to have been a pretty wonderful time to have been a Toronto sports fan! During those eight years, there was never more than 18 months between championships, and often as few as six months:

  • April 22, 1945: Toronto wins Stanley Cup
  • December 1, 1945: Toronto wins Grey Cup
  • November 3, 1946: Toronto wins Grey Cup
  • April 19, 1947: Toronto wins Stanley Cup
  • November 29, 1947: Toronto wins Grey Cup
  • April 14, 1948: Toronto wins Stanley Cup
  • April 16, 1949: Toronto wins Stanley Cup
  • November 25, 1950: Toronto wins Grey Cup
  • April 21, 1951: Toronto wins Stanley Cup
  • November 29, 1952: Toronto wins Grey Cup

This was when my parents grew up. I know it made a big impact on my father, and I’m sure it’s a big reason why sports still runs so deep in my immediate family. I mean, there’s never really been another run like it in all of Canadian sports. Even when the Edmonton Eskimos and Edmonton Oilers were winning all those championships between 1978 and 1990 (and there were 11 in total – although it took them 13 years to do it) the only time they both won in the same calender year was 1987. Toronto did it in 1945 and 1947.

Argos

Montreal comes out on top in terms of twin NHL and CFL titles, although even with their 24 hockey championships dating back to 1916, the only years in which the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup and a Montreal football won the Grey Cup in the same season are 1931, 1944 and 1977. Ottawa almost joins the list of twin wins with Grey Cup victories in 1925 and 1926 and the Stanley Cup in 1927.

American cities have had their multiple champions too, but not very often. In 1927, the New York Yankees and the New York Giants football team were both champions, although the NFL did not have a championship game yet. In 1928, the New York Rangers and Yankees were both champs and in 1969 the New York Jets and New York Mets both won titles too. (The New York Knicks added an NBA title in 1970.) In Pittsburgh, Super Bowl championships by the Steelers in January of 1979 and 1980 bookended a World Series win by the Pirates in October of 1979. And way back in 1935, the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions won the World Series and the NFL championship within two months of each other. (Detroit’s Joe Louis was boxing’s Heavyweight Champion of the World at the time, and the Red Wings would add Stanley Cup titles in 1936 and 1937.)

In terms of timing, the ultimate back-to-back championships would be to win the Stanley Cup and the NBA Finals in the same season, given that they have often wrapped up within a week or two of each other. No one city has ever accomplished that double feat. But in past years Toronto has crowned multiple hockey champions in a timeline often tighter than the 13 days between this year’s Argos and TFC titles. Have a look…

  • March 22, 1922: Toronto Granites win Allan Cup
    March 28, 1922: Toronto St. Pats win Stanley Cup
  • April 6, 1932: Toronto Nationals win Allan Cup
    April 9, 1932: Toronto Maple Leafs win Stanley Cup
  • April 22, 1945: Leafs win Stanley Cup
    April 23, 1945: St. Mikes wins Memorial Cup
  • April 19, 1947: Leafs win Stanley Cup
    April 22, 1947: St. Mikes wins Memorial Cup
  • April 15, 1964: Leafs win Stanley Cup
    May 9, 1964: Marlies win Memorial Cup
  • May 2, 1967: Leafs win Stanley Cup
    May 14, 1967: Marlies win Memorial Cup

Toronto doesn’t have a monopoly on this. Montreal has done it too, but not nearly as often.

  • March 30, 1930: Montreal AAA wins Allan Cup
    April 3, 1930: Montreal Canadiens win Stanley Cup
  • May 4, 1969: Montreal Canadiens win Stanley Cup
    May 5, 1969: Montreal Junior Canadians win Memorial Cup

Once again Ottawa comes pretty close, with the Senators clinching the Stanley Cup as champions of the Eastern Canada Hockey Association on March 3, 1909 and the Cliffsides being awarded the inaugural Allan Cup on March 6, 1909 only to lose it to Queen’s University in the first challenge match nine days later.

If anyone’s aware of any twin wins I’ve missed, please let me know!

Jack of All Trades Was a Master Too

I thought this story would be quick and easy. But I was wrong.

A week ago, on November 29, a statue of Jackie Robinson was unveiled at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. What makes this new statue different from others commemorating the man who broke modern baseball’s racial barrier is that this one honours Jackie Robinson’s contributions to football in Southern California where he grew up.

Statue
Jackie Robinson wearing the #55 he sported while starring at Pasadena Junior College.

Robinson was a four-sport star, excelling at football, baseball, basketball and track, at Pasadena Junior College in 1937 and 1938 and then at UCLA in 1939 and 1940. The stories I saw about the unveiling of the football statue mentioned that Robinson played many games at the Rose Bowl and that his 104-yard kickoff return there is still thought to be the longest touchdown run in the history of the storied stadium.

I thought it would be fun to find a newspaper clipping about that run and set out to hunt one down. Generally speaking, the many books and articles written about Robinson over the years seemed to agree that the play happened during the final game of Pasadena’s perfect 11-and-0 season in 1938.

Pasadena
Jackie Robinson and teammates with he Pasadena Junior College baseball team.
(Photo courtesy of John Thorn, Official Historian of Major League Baseball.)

Jackie Robinson was a remarkable athlete, and football may well have been his best sport. He played quarterback and safety at Pasadena Junior College and during that undefeated season in 1938 he rushed for over 1,000 yards. Older sources say he scored 17 touchdowns, but newer research claims he had 18. Robinson also threw seven touchdown passes, kicked one field goal and converted many of his team’s touchdowns too. In all, he scored 131 of his team’s 369 points.

So, I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to find evidence of a 104-yard touchdown run. Then again, Robinson was playing at a Junior College in an area of the United States with more universities than anywhere else. His games did get covered in many of the California newspapers I can find online, but there’s not always a lot of detail.

There’s likely more in a Pasadena paper hiding in a library somewhere, but I couldn’t find much from the 39-6 win over lowly Cal Tech on Wednesday night, November 23, 1938. There’s nothing about a 104-yard touchdown, and though I’ve seen stories and books putting the attendance anywhere from 18,000 to 30,000 that night, the newspapers I’ve found show only 3,500.

Both
United Press stories on the Cal Tech game from newspapers in Berkley and Bakersfield.

As I expanded my search, I found several references over the years saying that Jackie Robinson had run for “only” a 99-yard touchdown in the Cal Tech game. However, in the description I found for the 1939 Junior College Annual of Pasadena City College available online at Abebooks (you can buy it for US$540 if you choose!), there’s a very detailed account of the 1938 football season. Of the game in question, it says: “Jack Robinson and 16 other seniors rang down the curtain on their Pasadena football careers as they walloped cross town rival Cal Tech 39-6…. Robinson’s closing chapter was a 104-yard run to the touchdown, climaxing the greatest individual career in jaysee history.”

Beyond that, the next mention I could find of Robinson running for a 104-yard touchdown doesn’t appear until an April 12, 1977, story in the Los Angeles Times marking the upcoming 30th anniversary of Robinson’s Major League debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

“The season ended,” wrote Shav Glick of Robinson’s 1938 Pasadena football campaign, “with Cal Tech and another 30,000 in the Rose Bowl and Robinson’s final contribution was a 104-yard kickoff return.”

Shav Glick knew Robinson personally. They both attended Pasadena Junior College together. Glick first started reporting sports in Pasadena as a 14-year-old in 1935 and wrote his final column for the Los Angeles Times in January of 2006 at the age of 85. He was likely at the Cal Tech game, and may have been writing from memory, or from old newspaper stories he himself had written and saved. He may well have written that recap from 1939.

Sun
Brief coverage of the Cal Tech game in the San Bernadino County Sun.

Interviewed for a 1997 story in the New York Daily News, Glick said of Robinson’s football skills, “He was so spectacular. In a game against Cal Tech, Robinson returned a kickoff 104 yards and collapsed in the end zone.” Added Hank Ives, longtime publisher of JC Grid-Wire and the foremost authority on Junior College football: “He must have run 200-plus yards. He reversed his field twice, running back and forth.”

Ives was born in Southern California in 1926, so perhaps he was at the game that night too. And yet…

Many of the biographies of Jackie Robinson mention his 104-yard touchdown run. Most note that it was a kickoff return. But not all. In his 1997 biography of Jackie Robinson, Arnold Rampersad wrote of that 39-6 win over Cal Tech: “In the next game, his last as a Bulldog, Jack said farewell with a masterpiece. Setting up behind his own goal line in punt formation, he gathered in the hiked ball, then raced 104 yards for a touchdown against a muddle of disbelieving Cal Tech players.”

UCLA
Jackie Robinson wore #28 while playing football at UCLA.
(Photo courtesy of John Thorn, Official Historian of Major League Baseball.)

That seems rather incredible. Perhaps even foolhardy, although no doubt the Pasadena team felt they could crush Cal Tech even if this gamble turned over the ball so close to their own goal line. And there’s a little corroborating evidence too. Jules Tygiel made no mention of it in his 1983 book The Great Experiment, but wrote of Robinson’s touchdown prowess in Pasadena in an article for the Los Angeles Times in 2006, “the last [came on] a 104-yard dash on a fake punt.”

At this point, it seems impossible to know for sure, but I’m leaning towards the fake punt rather than a kickoff return. If anyone knows of a detailed, first-hand account of the game, I’d love to see it.

Leon’s Revenge!

I’ve written before about how Canadian Football runs deep in my family. I’d say the Argos, much more than the Maple Leafs, were my first favorite team. I saw my first Leafs game in December of 1970 when I was seven years old. They were only 3 1/2 years removed from their last Stanley Cup victory. I was 3 1/2 when that happened … and I have absolutely no memory of it. It’s ancient history to me. I saw my first Argos game a few months later, in the summer of 1971. They had not won the Grey Cup since 1952 and were coming off pretty close to two decades of misery. But I had no idea about that either. It was also ancient history.

In my first season of Argos fandom, the team went 10-4 and won the East Division … only to lose the Grey Cup to Calgary. Leon McQuay’s fumble wasn’t the only reason they lost that game, but perhaps the 109-yard fumble return for a touchdown that was the key to this year’s Argonauts victory over the Stampeders was Leon’s revenge!

Leon

I am certainly not the Argos fan that I once was. I worshiped Joe Theismann when I was young. I had his Quarterbacking book and tried to run the plays he diagramed with my brother David. It was tough to do with just the two of us! Jonathan was never much of a football fan, but he did have an inflatable Argos souvenir player we used to call Leon. We all played a little too rough with Leon, and the seams in his ankle gave way. My father would try to patch him for us, but our Leon always had a slow leak, which made him look kind of sad.

In my second season of Argos fandom in 1972, Joe Theismann broke his ankle. (It’s a much less famous injury than his career-ender with the Washington Redskins in 1985.) I broke my wrist around the same time. No, I was not trying to emulate my hero … but I did get to meet him at a game a week or two later. Theismann hobbled by my father and me on his crutches as the rest of the team was making its way to the field to start the game. I was too shy, but my father asked him to sign my cast.

“Well, kid,” said Theismann, “signing casts isn’t exactly my bag…” But he was smiling when he said it, and he did sign it for me. I kept it until it virtually crumbled into dust!

Parade
Toronto Star coverage of the 1983 Grey Cup Parade.

For a while after the Blue Jays came to town, we held on to our Argos season tickets, but like many in Toronto, our family’s football loyalty faded. I’ve always continued to follow the team, and we’ve often (though we didn’t this year) made it a point to at least attend any home playoff games. But really, my last great Argos enthusiasm dates back to 1983.

The year before, Toronto had hosted the 1982 Grey Cup. On either the Friday night or the Saturday before the game, my friends and I (all in first year at university at the time) headed downtown on the subway. Someone had told one of us there was a better chance of getting into the best parties if you were well dressed, so we were all in suits and ties … but I don’t recall us getting into any place special.

Win
The Argos celebrate after a thrilling 27-24 come-from-behind
victory over Calgary on a snowy evening in Ottawa.

The Argos lost to Edmonton that year (the last of five straight for that great dynasty), but the next year, Toronto returned to the Grey Cup and defeated the B.C. Lions in Vancouver. This was the first time in my memory that my hometown team had won a championship. Given how long it had taken the Argos since their last Grey Cup, how poor the Leafs had become, and how relatively little the Blue Jays had accomplished yet, I had no idea if I’d ever see one again! So, I did everything you’re supposed to do to celebrate. I went out to the airport to welcome the team home (there was a pretty big crowd there!) and I went to the championship parade. It was all a lot of fun, but I guess the excitement didn’t really last for me.

Rally
The weather was much nicer yesterday for the Grey Cup rally at City Hall in Toronto.

The Argos were founded in 1874, which makes them the oldest team in North American professional sports. It’s a shame to see how far out of favor Canadian football has fallen in the country’s largest city. I hope this year’s championship gives the team a real boost … but I know I’m not the only one who has his doubts about that.

On This Day in History … Or That Day in History

For close to 90 years, the NHL noted the date of its creation as November 22, 1917. It’s easy enough to understand why. Elmer Ferguson of the Montreal Herald long claimed to be the lone observer still on site at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal that day when the formative meetings wrapped up. Much of what is known about the formation of the NHL comes from stories he wrote about it over the years – and he always wrote November 22.

Gazette 22
From the Montreal Gazette, November 22, 1917.

More than just the word of Elmer Ferguson, we have the writings in the original Minute Book of [the] National Hockey League housed at the Hockey Hall of Fame. Page 1 begins: “At a meeting of representatives of hockey clubs held at the Windsor Hotel, Montreal, November 22, (the notation 1917 appears to have been written in later), the following present…” It then goes on to list those in attendance and the steps they took to form the National Hockey League as a replacement for the old National Hockey Association.

“It sounded both quick and congenial,” notes my friend Andrew Ross, author of Joining the Clubs: The Business of the National Hockey League to 1945, “but the minutes elided both time and space. Despite the evidence of the official records, newspaper reports suggest not all the decisions ascribed to the 22 November meeting were taken on that day.”

Indeed they were not.

Ott 23
This story from the Ottawa Journal on November 23, 1917,
indicates that nothing was done at the meeting on November 22.

When we at Dan Diamond and Associates published Total Hockey in 1998, Brian McFarlane noted of the November 22 meeting in his essay ‘The Founding of a New League’ that “no official report of their discussions was released.” He then added that the meeting was adjourned until November 24, “but was not actually held until November 26 at Montreal’s Windsor Hotel. On that day it was formally announced that there would be a new hockey league – the National Hockey League.”

Ott 26
The Ottawa Journal, quoting from the Montreal Star on November 26, 1917.

So, clearly, the date of the actual announcement of the NHL was known to those who had searched for it, and yet the formation date of November 22, 1917, remained part of the league’s “official” history. To the best of my knowledge, this didn’t begin to change until after the publication of Deceptions and Doublecross: How the NHL Conquered Hockey, by Morey Holzman and Joseph Nieforth, in 2002.

TStar 26
This article from the Toronto Star on November 26 states that the meeting on November 24 was postponed and that plans for the new season would be announced that afternoon.

It’s long been said that the NHL was created to rid the others owners of Toronto’s meddlesome Eddie Livingstone. That appears truly to have been the case. In Deceptions, it’s stated that in the Ottawa Citizen on November 20, 1917, Tommy Gorman had made it known that the likely successor to the NHA would known as the National Hockey League. So, the name was already in the air, and it was expected that all would be worked out at the meeting in Montreal on November 22 … but it wasn’t. With Quebec dithering about whether or not to enter a team, no decisions were announced that day. It wasn’t until November 26 that Quebec officially opted out, and Toronto – under the stewardship of the owners of the Arena Gardens on Mutual Street – was given a team instead.

Two Nov 27
These stories in Toronto’s Globe and the Ottawa Journal on November 27, 1917,
confirm that the NHL had come into existence the previous afternoon.

It wasn’t until the publication of the 2006 NHL Official Guide & Record Book in the fall of 2005 (after the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season) that the NHL began to recognize the date of its organization as November 26, 1917. It seems to have slowly made its way into the world as the correct date since then.

This week, on Sunday, the NHL will officially mark the 100th Anniversary of the Founding of the League on November 26, 2017. I’m certainly of the opinion they’ve got it right.

Remembering Roy

I wasn’t going to write about Roy Halladay. After all the tributes to him I’ve read since his death was confirmed late Tuesday afternoon, I didn’t really think I had anything to say. I’d already had a story in mind for today, but it didn’t feel right to write about something and not to mention Halladay at all. Or to just tack on a word of condolence to a different story. So, allow me a few moments to share some thoughts.

As many of you know, my entire family has been huge Blue Jays fans from the very beginning. We’ve had seasons tickets since the moment they went on sale prior to the first season in 1977. I worked on the ground crew for five years from 1981 to 1985 when the team literally went from worst to first, and although I don’t get to more than a game or two most seasons these days, I still watch or listen almost every day. The Blue Jays have meant a lot to me over the years. Probably more than they should.

Strange thing is, I’ve never been a “favourite player” type of guy. I like the team; I like the game; I like being a fan … but I’ve never had a jersey for the Blue Jays or the Maple Leafs with a name and a number on the back. That’s just not me. If forced to pick, I’d agree with the general consensus that Roberto Alomar was the best Blue Jay ever. But my own personal favourite would be a toss up between Dave Stieb and Roy Halladay. I do like good pitching.

Me
Roy Halladay posed for this picture with me at Spring Training circa 2006.

I was there on the final day of the 1998 season when Halladay had a no-hitter broken up with two out in the ninth inning of his second career start. (I read in a newspaper yesterday that it was a perfect game, but although Halladay hadn’t walked anyone, second baseman Felipe Crespo had made an error in the fifth inning to allow a baserunner.) It was an exciting game, but I can’t honestly say that I felt like I was watching the birth of baseball’s next great pitcher.

And, indeed, Halladay struggled until pitching coach Mel Queen famously helped him to overhaul his mechanics and his mental approach to the game when he was sent back to the minors after spring training in 2001. When Halladay returned to Toronto that July, he struggled briefly … and then was brilliant. He had only a 5-3 record that season, but his 3.16 ERA was impressive and I remember clearly believing that he should have won at least eight games, not just five.

From then on, Halladay was the player I wanted to see. I admired his skill, and I admired his dedication. If I didn’t have access to our family’s season tickets (and we were sharing them around pretty widely by those years), I’d still happily pay for a cheap seat to get into the park when Halladay was pitching.

Ball
My mother-in-law had the picture reproduced on a ball, which Halladay signed the next year.

I remember late in the 2003 season. The Jays weren’t horrible that year, but were hopelessly behind the Yankees and Red Sox (as they always were in those day!) and not in contention for the wild card either. Now a Cy Young favourite, Halladay had won his 20th and 21st games on the road, and was pitching back at home on a Monday night, September 23. I wanted to be there to see him win his 22nd game and set a new team record. I took our daughter Amanda and bought a pair of seats, the two of us sitting among a fairly sparse crowd of just under 23,000 people in the 50,000-seat stadium.

There had a been a bit of bad blood recently between the Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Devils Rays, and – apparently – warnings had been issued to both teams before the game, although no one had told Halladay. In the sixth inning, after giving up a lead-off homer to put the Jays down 1-0, followed by a single, the third batter was hit by pitch … and Halladay was ejected. The crowd was pretty angry. I was incensed!

“I don’t know where it came from,” Halladay said after the game. “But in … a 1-0 game and a man on base, that run is important to me. I’m just trying to get out of the inning, I can’t see why they would think I’m trying to hit someone.”

To make matters worse, reliever Dan Reichert (who?!?) promptly gave up a walk and two straight hits to allow both of Halladay’s base-runners to score. Yet another hit put us down 5-0. The Jays lost 5-2.

“Doc’s out there trying to win a Cy Young and he gets charged with three earned runs without having the chance to get them off the field,” said Jays GM J.P. Riccardi. “Maybe common sense could have been used, you know?”

I wasn’t there when Halladay won his 22nd game on the final Saturday of the season. And, of course, he did win the Cy Young Award that year.

Such was Halladay’s skill and dedication, that almost no one in Toronto held it against him when he asked to be traded to a contender after the 2009 season. My brothers and I often joke that when anyone gets traded away, “we wish them nothing but the worst” with their new team. Not Halladay. I was pleased to watch his success in Philadelphia at a distance, and thrilled to have been watching on television when he threw a no-hitter in his first postseason appearance in 2010. He was just that good.

Celebrity deaths don’t usually affect me, but the death of Roy Halladay has been hard.

Pictures and Publicity For My Latest Book

My newest book, the Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History is in stores now. Here are a few images from our recent launch at The Sport Gallery in Toronto’s Distillery District…

 Launch
The cover of the book, and the front entrance to The Sport Gallery.

Launch 1
My brothers and I were suitably attired!

Launch 2
The author with his proud mother.

And from my signing at Manticore Books in Orillia.

Launch 3
The front window of a very charming book store.

Launch 4
Me with many of my books, both old and new.

If you’re up for even more, you can check out the recent column by Andrew Armitage in the Owen Sound Sun-Times or my in-studio interview with Bill Murdoch on CFOS in Owen Sound. I was on with him for the full hour, which was a lot of fun for me but if that’s too much Eric Zweig for you, you can check out this much shorter phone interview on CFOS with Fred Wallace.

And if you’re in the Owen Sound area, I hope you’ll join us at The Ginger Press on Wednesday November 22 at 7 pm for some hockey-and-book talk. Should be a fun evening! There’ll also be a signing at Book Lore in Orangeville beginning at 11 am on December 2.